Crow tribal chairman Cedric Black Eagle has appointed Dr. Janine Pease to head the tribe’s Education Department.
The Crow Legislature unanimously confirmed the cabinet-level appointment at a special session on Feb. 23.
In announcing Pease’s appointment, Black Eagle cited her extensive experience in education.
“Education for all the Crow people at all levels is a highest priority for our Crow national development,” he said. “Dr. Pease brings specific knowledge and experience of adult, vocational and college services, special programs for school-aged children, tribal language initiatives and work-force development training.”
Pease, a member of the Crow Tribe, will oversee a staff of eight. She holds a master’s and a doctorate degree in adult and higher education from Montana State University.
Most recently, Pease was vice president for academic and vocational programs at Fort Peck Community College in Poplar for 2½ years.
Before that, she was vice president for Indian Affairs and Planning and Rocky Mountain College for nearly five years.
She also served on the Governor’s Kindergarten to College Task Group from 2006 to 2010 and on the Montana Board of Regents from 2006 until Feb. 1 of this year, when her term expired.
Pease was the founding president of Little Big Horn College at Crow Agency, a post she held for 18 years, until early 2001. She was forced to leave after a lengthy battle with tribal officials who asserted control over the college.
Pease, who acknowledged that as a stormy time, said she is pleased to bring her expertise back to the Crow reservation.
“The leadership in the tribe has changed considerably since that time,” she said. “There’s been a move into whole areas of emphasis in education that were probably not even thought of when I was here. I am so glad to be home.”
With the past 10 years spent elsewhere garnering higher education experience, Pease said she sees great opportunity in her return to the tribe “where I probably know the conditions and opportunities the very best.”
Her first priority will be the revitalization of the Crow language.
“We’re experiencing a collapse in the fluency rate,” Pease said.
Initial focus will be on the 40 children in the tribe’s two day care programs and the 305 youngsters in Head Start.
Among that age group, Pease said, the fluency rate is 5 percent, compared with 40 percent among the children’s parents.
Some language immersion is occurring in the day care and Head Start classrooms, she said, but the goal is to boost the amount of time the children work in their native language.
Pease said her department also will work in cooperation with the Office of Public Instruction on boosting academic achievement at two of tribe’s high schools, Lodge Grass High and Plenty Coups High in Pryor. The two schools are part of an OPI initiative, called Schools of Promise, geared toward improving the state’s lowest-performing schools.
“Obviously academic achievement is a huge issue,” Pease said. “It’s important for our kids to have a chance for a sound education at all levels.”
Another priority is increasing high school graduation rates, a particular concern of Black Eagle, Pease said.
Alternative high school education is being studied as a way to draw students who’ve dropped out back into education.
Pease, who acknowledges the challenges ahead, is ready to embrace them.
“It’s an extremely important time to have leadership in education, and I’m happy to be that leader, along with many others who are concerned and want to help,” she said.